SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.; U.S./1945 – 1991;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Brothers; Coming of Age; Courage; Fighting; Friendship; Peer Pressure; Redemption;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Respect; Caring.
AGE: 11+; MPAA Rating PG-13 (for violence, teen drinking and smoking, and some sexual reference);
1983; 91 Minutes; Color. TWM recommends The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, a director’s cut which is 1 hour, 54 minutes, incorporating 22 minutes of previously omitted footage and an updated musical score. It follows the novel more closely and is available from Amazon.com.
Read the Book First! The novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is widely read in secondary schools across the nation. It is appropriate for readers over the age of 10 although some of the themes in the book are mature. The novel is regarded as an American classic.
This Learning Guide applies to both the movie and the book.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM’s guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
The Outsiders is a story of conflict between two groups of teenagers, the delinquent Greasers and their privileged enemies, the Socs’ (pronounced “Soshs”). They hate each other for their differences and fight as they try to navigate from adolescence to adulthood.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1983 Moscow International Film Festival: Francis Ford Coppola (director) nominated for the Golden Prize; 1984 Young Artist Awards, C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy Curtis) won for Best Young Motion Picture Actor in a Feature Film; 1984 Young Artist Awards, nominated for Best Family Feature Motion Picture, and Diane Lane (Sherri “Cherry” Valance) nominated for Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.
Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane.
Francis Ford Coppola.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Teachers who assign S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel will most often use the film as a reward after the book has been read and studied in class. For classes with poor literacy skills teachers can use the movie to assist students in understanding the reading. Care should be taken that students do not use the film as a substitute for reading the book.
Through discussion, analysis of poetry, and writing, students will exercise important ELA skills relating to a gripping story. Students can become aware of differences in presentation between the novel and the film. The lessons of the story assist adolescents in resolving some of the social and emotional issues of growing up in modern society.
Serious. As in the book, the movie is set against a violent backdrop in which fights are the preferred method of resolving conflict. One character is stabbed to death, another dies from being burned badly in a fire, and yet another provokes the police into shooting him to death. There is also mild profanity and scenes of teenagers drinking and smoking. Girls are sexually harassed. There is some talk about smoking marijuana.
Encourage children to read the book before watching the movie. The novel is a staple in American schools and the movie is a reasonably faithful adaptation. If your child is reading the book for a class, find out if there will be a screening of the movie. If not, you can let your child watch the movie once he or she has completed the novel.
Make a negative comment about the children smoking. Before reading the book or seeing the movie, read Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, with your child. Explain that often the first shoots of plants, especially in New England, are golden in color. Then they turn to green. If possible, memorize the poem with your child. It is short and rewarding.
Also, you might show similar movies like West Side Story. Talk about how they are similar and how they are different.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Before Watching the Movie or Reading the Book:
Have students read and memorize Robert Frost’s short poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. Tell them that Frost noticed that the first growth of plants after the harsh New England winter is often golden in color but quickly turns to green. Have students analyze the poem using techniques with which they may be familiar such as “say, mean, matter.”
After Reading the Book or Watching the Movie:
Talk to the class about police assisted suicide, also known as “suicide by cop.” This occurs when a person intentionally provokes a law enforcement officer into killing him or her. Killing people in the line of duty is stressful for most police officers. When the person killed manipulates the police officer into becoming an agent of suicide, there is additional stress on the officer.
1. This story has several important themes. Identify two major themes of the story.
A. Cherish the impermanent “gold,” that is, value the innocence of youth and its wonder at the beauty of the world.
B. Rigid divisions among people based on class, gang affiliation, or ethnic, or religious groupings are harmful because they interfere with friendships and relationships that would normally develop if people were free to choose their friends, lovers, and associates on their own. The divisions between the Greasers and the Socs, like any imposed divisions between most cliques of kids and most established groups in society, are artificial and based on circumstances of birth and random events of life. Socs, like Greasers, have sorrows, problems, difficulties in coming of age, dreams for the future, etc.
C. Violence is not a good way to solve problems. People get hurt and fighting often leads to unexpected consequences, as when several larger and older Socs are beating Ponyboy but the fight ends with one of them dying after being stabbed by Johnny.
D. Life is better when you have friends and when you are a good friend.
E. Appearance is often different from reality. For example, strength in a human being doesn’t come from the outward show like that put on by Dally. It can be found even in those that appear meek, like Johnny. The Greasers are shown to be more genuine people with better friendships than the Socs. Some of the Greasers were, in many ways, innocent children who took on the trappings of tough guys.
F. True strength does not come from denying your feelings and being “tough” so you won’t get hurt. (Johnny was stronger than Dally. Dally played tough but was brittle and cracked under the strain of Johnny’s death.)
2. A protagonist is considered the most important character in a story. Typically it is the actions of the protagonist that drives the plot. Usually, it is the protagonist who changes based on what happens in the story. Who is the protagonist in this story?
There are two protagonists. Ponyboy appears to be the main character because the movie starts and ends with him. In addition, the narrative follows Ponyboy through most of the story. But Ponyboy is almost an observer, and certainly it isn’t his actions which drive the plot. While Ponyboy learns from experience, much of it is taught by Johnny, who learns much more. In addition, it is Johnny’s actions that drive the plot. He stands up to Dally to protect Cherry, setting up the friendship with the Soc girls that helps motivate the attack in the playground. It is Johnny who kills Bob to protect Ponyboy, and it is Johnny who joins Ponyboy in the burning church to save the children. It is Johnny’s death that drives Dally to despair. It is Johnny who teaches Ponyboy the main lesson of the book. Johnny is as much the protagonist, if not more so, than Ponyboy. Therefore, in this story it can be said that there are two protagonists.
3. Both the book and the film are filled with irony. In a well-written story, ironies relate to life-lessons that can be learned from the story. The lessons may be themes of the story, but they may not be important enough to the story to rise to the level of a theme. Name two ironies in The Outsiders which you find to be important, describing the ironies and their related lessons.
Here are several ironies and their associated lessons. Note that students may come up with different lessons from any particular irony. (1) It is ironic that the Socs’ and the society that their parents control usually look down on the Greasers as less intelligent and less cultured, but it is Ponyboy who writes about the experience. [Corresponding lesson: class distinctions are artificial and false.] (2) It is ironic that Johnny, the person who is emotionally the strongest, appears to be the weakest. [Corresponding lessons: emotional strength and physical strength are not related or outward shows of strength and toughness can mask internal weakness.] It is ironic that the teacher who is charged with caring for the kids is not the one who saves them from the burning church. Instead it is the juvenile delinquents. [Corresponding lesson: just because someone is in authority doesn’t mean that they are the best person to do the job in all situations.] It is ironic that Johnny looks up to Dally for his strength, but in reality it is Johnny who is emotionally stronger than Dally. [Corresponding lesson: emotional strength and physical strength are not related.] It is ironic that Bob, the leader of the Soc gang that outnumbers and is older and larger than Ponyboy and Johnny, is the one who is hurt the most in the fight. [Corresponding lessons: fighting often has unexpected consequences or violence is not a good way to resolve conflicts.]
4. The divisions between these two groups, like the divisions between most cliques of kids and most traditional groups in society, are based on circumstances of birth and accidental events in life. Although the Socs’ and the Greasers are quite different, in what areas of life can they find common ground?
Answers will vary and may not be attributed to the film, but imposed by personal experience. Socs’, like Greasers, have sorrows, problems, fears, the need for friendship and security, difficulties in coming of age, dreams and desires for the future, etc.
5. What is the message of Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay? How does this relate to the themes of the movie?
The poem describes the progression of a plant from its first golden bloom in Spring to a mature leafy growth. It points out that the “gold,” the first bloom, cannot stay. There are at least two ways in which this relates to the story of “The Outsiders.” First, this is a coming-of-age movie in which, like the plant, teenagers are growing up. The poem celebrates this as inevitable, telling us that nothing as beautiful, young, and tender as the first growth can stay. But there is a second meaning to “The Outsiders” which culminates in Johnny’s instruction to Ponyboy to “stay gold.” The term “gold” in this sense means youth, including the innocence, the freshness, the goodness that comes with the first blush of life, and staying true to yourself. Johnny is telling Ponyboy and the reader to keep as much of the “gold” as possible.
Additional Discussion Questions.
1. Sometimes the antagonist can be something other than a person. Who or what is the antagonist in this movie?
The antagonist is the corrosive hatred that the teenagers have for each other as well as their willingness to resort to violence. Bob could be said to be the antagonist, but this exaggerates his role.
2. What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to “stay gold”?
The term “stay gold” means keeping your youth, including your freshness, your innocence, and the goodness that comes with the first flush of life. It also means to be true to yourself. Many of the young adults in this movie, especially the Socs, have lost touch with their “gold.” They get drunk; they harass girls; they beat up other people. Among the Greasers, Dally, Darry, and perhaps Johnny have also lost some of their “gold;” each for his own reasons. Ponyboy shows that he still has his gold by running into the burning church to save the children. Johnny tried to regain his “gold” by entering the burning building, but once your “gold” is gone, can you ever get it back?
3. How much of what happened to Johnny was the result of his dysfunctional family?
A lot of it. Johnny was on his own because of his dysfunctional family. He was without resources, other than his friends. However, the corrosive environment of hatred and violence was also very harmful to Johnny.
4. What is the role of schooling and education in this movie?
Education is a way out. For Ponyboy, it is a way to define himself outside of the restrictions imposed on the Greasers. It is also an escape from the lower class, the poverty, and the danger of his social situation. His oldest brother, Darry, wanted to continue his education, but couldn’t because he had to take care of his two younger brothers. Darry encourages Ponyboy to keep learning, to use education as a tool to free himself from the confines of his environment.
5. When Randy and Ponyboy were talking in the car on the day of the rumble, Randy said that despite the outcome of the fight, “Greasers will still be Greasers, Socs will still be Socs.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Defend your position.
Randy was right. Socs will still go to college and get good jobs and Greasers will not further their education and will be relegated to low paying blue collar jobs. Randy also means that no matter what the outcome of the fight, the two groups will still be rivals. As Johnny said when he was told about the Greaser’s victory in the rumble: “It’s useless. Fighting ain’t no good.”
6. Who are “The Outsiders”?
“The Outsiders” are the Greasers. They are the lowest class of society. Most people they meet dislike them. They are feared by others. But in one sense, all teenagers are outsiders because they have not yet found their place in society.
7. In a time of crisis, you never know how someone is going to react. You don’t know in advance who is going to come through and who is going to fail. How is this shown in the movie?
The Sunday School teacher, the man who had responsibility for the children in the burning church, was unable to bring himself to enter the fire. It was the juvenile delinquents, Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally, who saved the kids from the burning building. Another example is that Dally, the tough guy, couldn’t deal with Johnny’s death.
8. Where are the parents in this movie?
Ponyboy’s parents were killed in a car crash. The other parents are absent or destructive, like Johnny’s parents. They have no positive input into their children’s lives.
9. Why did the Socs hate the Greasers so much?
This is not explained and, in life, sometimes people are subjected to irrational, unreasoning hatred and dislike because of the group that they belong to. Examples are racism and anti-Semitism.
10. Who was more of a menace to society, the Socs or the Greasers?
Clearly, in this story it was the Socs. They were aggressive and persecuted the Greasers.
11. The Outsiders was set in the 1960s and written in the 1960s, yet it still remains very popular. Why is this story so timeless?
This is a story about teenagers trying to find their way to adulthood in a society that is not welcoming. All teenagers go through the process of trying to find out how they fit into adult society, but because of circumstances or their personalities, some teenagers have more difficulties in the transition than others. The problems of teenagers are structural, and stories of their efforts to find their way to adulthood can be timeless. Think of Romeo and Juliet, young lovers who had to contend with a society as violent and sick with hatred as the society shown in The Outsiders. Romeo and Juliet’s love could not prevail against the hatred around them. Look at Hamlet also by Shakespeare. Hamlet is about how a teenager, in an incredibly weak position, overcame obstacles to find justice but lost his life in the process. Thus, there are strong parallels between the situation of teenagers, at least from Shakespeare’s time, to our own. In addition, cliques have permeated high schools for decades and will probably do so for decades to come.
12. Darry, Ponyboy’s oldest brother, is an important character in the movie and is used to demonstrate one of the basic themes of the film. What about him is so important and what is the theme?
Darry was on his way to becoming a Soc. He was a football star and he made good grades. He had a lot of friends among the Socs. However, he had to drop out of school when his parents died. He was then classified as a Greaser and the friendships were lost. One point the author is trying to make here is that there is no difference between these two groups other than circumstances of birth and random events of their lives.
13. What is suicide by cop? Does this movie show a suicide by cop?
Suicide by cop is when a person deliberately provokes a peace officer to kill him or her. What happened was not entirely clear but it looked like Dally was trying to get the cops to kill him. At least the class can have a good debate about this.
The following two questions should be asked together:
14. Except for Ponyboy and Darry, where do you think most of the Greasers would be in ten years, in terms of their work and social status? What about the Socs?
Most of the Greasers will be working low paid blue collar jobs, and most of the Socs will be out of college starting their careers in the white collar workforce. Ponyboy and Darry have a chance to break out of those stereotypes.
15. In this story what happened to the American Dream? Do the Greasers believe that they can become anyone they want to be?
The Greasers, beaten down by their circumstances, don’t participate in the American Dream, except for Ponyboy. One can also hope that Darry will be able to go back to school once his younger brothers are self-supporting. The Socs and their parents live the American dream, but we don’t see it making them all that happy. In many ways, this story shows the end of the American Dream.
Several other themes of the movie are discussed in the Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions and in the Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions.
CINEMATIC-LITERARY DEVICES IN THE MOVIE
16. In this story, we see events from the standpoint of Ponyboy. How does this cinematic-literary device affect the impact that the movie has on the viewer? How does this device affect the meaning of the movie for teenagers?
The fact that the story is told from the point of view of one of the characters makes the story very immediate and powerful. We (the audience) identify with Ponyboy and, as he learns, we learn. The fact that the story is told from the point of view of someone their age gives the story a special meaning for teenage viewers. In that sense, Johnny’s exhortation to Ponyboy to “stay gold” is a plea to all of us.
17. Which of the characters in this film could be considered a hero?
Johnny, for saving the children (and perhaps for saving Ponyboy, although he did kill someone in that process); Ponyboy, for saving the children, and Darry, for sacrificing his dreams and going to work to keep his family together.
18. Is this a story with a classic protagonist who changes and grows to meet the challenges posed by his circumstances? Think of how Luke Skywalker grew to meet challenges in the first Star Wars movie.
Yes and no. Ponyboy doesn’t grow and learn to slay the enemy as Luke did. Johnny’s action in killing Bob is one of the worst things that could happen to him. Ponyboy and Johnny grow by saving the children in the church and by growing in understanding. The thing that needs to be overcome in this story is not a person or a group of persons. (The Socs are not what need to be overcome. In fact, the characters acknowledge that the Greasers victory over the Socs in the rumble will not do the Greasers any good.) The corrosive hatred that the teenagers have for each other and their willingness to resort to violence is the antagonist in this story.
19. A child character in a story who by his or her death saves the other characters is a frequent theme of literature. Could Johnny be considered a child savior? Defend your conclusion.
An argument can be made that Johnny is a child savior. He dies, not only so that the children in the church may live, but his death also helps Ponyboy to mature and understand his world better. His death helps, to some extent, bring the Socs and the Greasers together because Cherry and Randy testify truthfully at Ponyboy’s hearing. This is not complete because Cherry still can’t bring herself to talk to Ponyboy at school. However, there is a difference between Johnny’s story and the classic child savior tale in that Johnny didn’t intend to sacrifice himself. He would have been happy to have saved the children in the burning church and given Ponyboy good advice without getting injured. Note also that Johnny’s death doesn’t help Dally. An example of a classic child savior tale is contained in the movie Behind the Sun. The most important and famous child savior is, of course, Jesus Christ.
20. Compare the story of Johnny to the story of another savior, Jesus Christ. In this question we are treating the Biblical story of Jesus as a piece of literature. (This is not a question about religion but about comparative literature.)
Johnny and Jesus both die for the sins of others. Johnny dies for the sins of the Socs and the Greasers — for a society which is obsessed with hatred and violence. Johnny’s injuries are permanent because we are only human and we cannot escape the laws of cause and effect. Jesus, in the story told in the New Testament, partakes of divinity. He dies for the sins of others (all mankind) but being divine, he is resurrected and then ascends to heaven. In short, the primary difference between the fate of Johnny and Jesus comes from the fact that Johnny is human and Jesus is divine. Another difference is that Johnny did not intend to sacrifice himself, while Jesus did.
21. Johnny teaches Ponyboy by his life, his words, and his death. Dally is another Greaser who dies. Is there anything to learn from his life and death? Is he a child savior like Johnny?
Certainly, much is to be learned from Dally’s life and death, i.e., don’t deny your feelings; don’t be tough so that you won’t get hurt because you’ll get hurt anyway; and don’t engage in risky behavior such as robbing a store or running from the police. But Dally doesn’t sacrifice himself for others, like Johnny did and the lessons from Dally’s life come from his weaknesses, not his strengths.
22. Throughout the movie, and in the book, we are inundated with different slang words and phrases like “cancer stick”, rumble, dig, Greaser, Soc, etc. What role does slang play in youth culture?
It is a way of setting the kids apart from their parents’ generation and establishing an independent identity.
GETTING INTO THE CHARACTERS
23. Dally said that a person had to be hard in this world and not have feelings for anyone. He claimed to be that way himself. Was this an accurate portrayal or do you have a different analysis of his character?
Dally was the opposite of what he said he was. He hurt so much that he could manage his emotions only by denying them almost completely. Dally had been hurt so many times, by his parents, by girls, and by the indifference of society, that he developed a very tough shell. But the shell was very brittle, and all the hurt was boiling inside him. In an unguarded moment, he told Johnny that he didn’t want to see Johnny get hardened in jail the way he had been. Dally cracked when Johnny, who was so good and so vulnerable and whom Dally loved, died. An argument can be made that Dally robbed the convenience store to attract the cops so that they could arrest or kill him.
24. Describe Cherry’s character.
She saw what the Socs were doing to the Greasers and didn’t like it. But she didn’t have the courage to stand up to the ostracism that she would suffer if she openly criticized what her friends were doing or associated with Greasers who she liked, specifically Ponyboy.
25. Describe Johnny’s character.
Johnny was the most vulnerable of the Greasers, but in some ways he was also the strongest. A year or two older than Ponyboy, Johnny often looked younger. His family was dysfunctional, and he found a family in the Greasers. Johnny was badly beaten by the Soc, Bob. Bob’s rings injured him, and after that Johnny felt afraid when he saw Socs, especially whenever he saw Bob’s rings. But Johnny was a stand up guy. He stood up to his hero Dally when Dally was harassing Cherry, and he did what he had to do to save Ponyboy’s life. He went into the burning church to save the children trapped inside. Johnny hated his own loss of innocence and felt guilty about killing Bob, even though he believed he had to do it to save Ponyboy.
26. Compare and contrast Dally and Johnny.
In some ways they were similar, but they had many differences. They were both Greasers. They were both courageous. Dally had a tough, brash and often rude exterior while Johnny was quiet, meek, and often fearful. However, Johnny was much stronger underneath than Dally. He did what he had to do against three larger Socs to save Ponyboy’s life. He ran into the church to save the children. He faced his own death bravely and wrote an insightful and mature letter to Ponyboy before he died. Dally could not take Johnny’s death. He was so distraught that he exploded and was killed by the police.
27. Describe Darry’s character.
Darry was willing to sacrifice his own dreams to keep his family together after his parents died. If that meant foregoing his hopes to play football and get a scholarship to college, he was willing to do it. He would get irritable and upset and sometimes take it out on Ponyboy, for whom he had very high expectations. Darry’s frustrations with his life situation were legitimate and his pressure on Ponyboy, while hard, was understandable. (In the story, there is one glaring inconsistency in Darry’s character: his participation in the rumble. What if he had been arrested or if one of his brothers had been arrested? That would have led the social services agencies to break up the family for sure. While an argument could be made that Darry went to the rumble only to protect his brothers, participating in the rumble is inconsistent with other parts of Darry’s personality.)
Ask the following two questions together:
28. Why was Dally so obnoxious to Cherry when they first met at the drive-in?
Dally was very attracted to Cherry but knew she was unattainable because she was a Soc. As a result, he acted aggressively and made her uncomfortable. Cherry was having none of it and defended herself. Johnny, who usually did the right thing, stood up for her.
29. Why didn’t Cherry ever want to see Dally again?
She told us. She was very attracted to him and could easily have fallen in love with him. She wouldn’t let herself because she knew it would not be good for her and besides, he was a Greaser. This is an example of the fact that hate and love are not opposites but instead they are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of love is indifference.
30. Why did Ponyboy and Johnny turn to Dally, of all people, for help?
Johnny admired and respected Dally. They knew that Dally would be true to the gang’s code of honor. After all, hadn’t Dally gone to jail for something Sodapop did? He was very tough and they knew that he would admire what Johnny had done. He was considered street smart and experienced. He had many connections. It was Dally who knew of the secret location to hide out.
31. What determined if a kid was a Soc or a Greaser?
For most, it was the economic situation of their family. Only a few like Darry and Ponyboy could transcend it, and they didn’t do it with money, they did it within the context of education.
1. Describe the relationships between the brothers in the Curtis family.
They cared about each other. Darry was forced into the role of parent. He knew Ponyboy was talented and had high hopes for him. Even when Darry got angry at Ponyboy, it was because he cared about him. Darry and Ponyboy had a tendency to quarrel, as is often the case with child/parent relations when the child is a teenager. Sodapop took on the role of mediator. For example, he explained to Ponyboy why Darry got angry at him so often. Ponyboy and Darry would ask Sodapop to take sides in their disputes. This eventually became too much for Sodapop. The brothers had some troubles (as when Darry pushed Ponyboy and Ponyboy ran away) but by the end of the film they had learned to resolve their differences by talking it out and being loving to each other.
2. Was Darry a good male role model? Why or why not?
Some might say he was a good model because he did everything he could for his brothers, and had basically become a parent. He provided for Ponyboy and Sodapop and made sure that the family stayed together. It can also be said that Darry wasn’t a good role model because he participated in the rumble and accepted fighting as a means to resolve disputes.
COMING OF AGE
3. Did Ponyboy change over the course of the movie? How?
Over the course of the film Ponyboy learned a lot about life and became more confident in himself and in his decisions. By the end of the movie, he had lost four important people in his life (his parents, Johnny and Dally), and this no doubt spurred some “growing up.” He was always an intellectual boy, citing Gone With the Wind and Nothing Gold Can Stay. This quality was still evident as he completed his essay for school. He had evolved into a more peaceful, mature person by the end of the film.
4. What is coming of age? Did any character come of age in this movie?
Coming of age is when a person changes from an adolescent to an adult. If anyone came of age in this movie it was Johnny. Ponyboy made some real strides toward coming of age, but the movie ends before he reaches true maturity.
5. What does this movie tell us about courage?
The movie tells us that true courage comes from caring. A good example is how the boys got hurt in the fire. First, Ponyboy ran toward the burning building to help the children. Then, Johnny came to help him. Together they went into the fire. Finally, Dally got out of the car and went to help his buddies. Ponyboy cared about the children. Johnny cared about Ponyboy and the children. Dally cared about Ponyboy and Johnny.
6. What is courage? Use an example from the movie to show what you mean.
Courage means being willing to risk life or limb or something you really want for a greater good. In this case, Johnny, Ponyboy and Dally risked being injured to save the children from burning to death in the church.
7. In this story, what was the conflict about?
The conflict was between rival groups with different socioeconomic status. But that simply defines the conflict. It doesn’t tell us what the conflict was about, i.e., why these kids hated each other. The Greasers are shown as the weaker group and the Socs as the aggressors. But the reason for the Socs’ anger at the Greasers isn’t apparent. And that’s an important point of the story. There was no basic reason for the conflict and yet it resulted in the death of a young man. (Note that the precipitating factor for the attack on Johnny and Ponyboy at the playground was the fact that they had been talking to the Socs’ girls. However, the basic conflict existed long before Johnny, Two-Bit and Ponyboy ever spoke to Cherry or Marcia.)
8. [Before asking this question, show the scene in which Romeo kills Tybalt from the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet and the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes from the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet. You can substitute, if you want, the scene in which Riff and Bernardo are killed in West Side Story.] Compare the fight scenes in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet” with what occurred in the “The Outsiders”. What does this tell us about fighting?
Fighting is very fluid and very risky. You don’t know how it will turn out and even those who are bigger and more skilled (Tybalt), who have a secret weapon (Laertes), or who have superior numbers and more strength (the Socs) can lose the fight.
9. Were there any alternatives for Johnny to use the knife in the fight to try to stop the Socs from drowning Ponyboy?
Not really. There were three Socs, each of whom was bigger than he was. He had already suffered badly from a beating by Bob and had been injured by the rings on Bob’s hands. To answer this question requires us to second-guess a very difficult decision that had to be made on the spur of the moment. However, in court, a judge or jury would require that Johnny (or his defense to a murder or manslaughter prosecution) to answer this question.
10. Did any fight shown in this film solve any problem for any of the participants?
No. The Greasers got a sense of pride out of winning the rumble but the Socs would continue to harass Greasers when the Socs outnumbered them. The Socs would still go to college, get better jobs, and look down on the Greasers.
11. What would have happened had the Greasers lost the rumble?
Not much. They would have felt badly about it and taken it as one more sign of being oppressed by the upper classes and their own inferiority. The hatred between the two groups would have remained as it remained after the Greaser’s won the rumble.
12. What characterized the relationships of the Greasers to each other?
Generally, the Greasers were good friends to each other. They had a code of loyalty which all of them respected. Here are some examples: Johnny attacked the Soc, Bob, so that he wouldn’t drown Ponyboy. Ponyboy ran away with Johnny even though Ponyboy wasn’t guilty of anything. Dally helped the boys escape. When one Greaser was in trouble, other Greasers would come to his aid.
13. What is the relationship between Johnny and Dally?
Johnny looks up to Dally and idolizes him. (He compares Dally to the Southern gentlemen in Gone With the Wind. Note that this ideal is pretty shallow.) Dally protects Johnny to the extent that he risks his probation by helping the younger boys escape and giving them a gun. He goes to the burning church to help Johnny and Ponyboy. Dally cares about Johnny so much that he cannot stand it when Johnny dies.
14. What friendships are shown that cross the Greaser/Soc line? What happens to them? How does this relate to a theme of the film?
There is the Ponyboy/Cherry friendship. They acknowledge their friendship, but she won’t greet him at school. There is the friendship between Darry and the football player who appears at the rumble. This friendship is dead because Darry is now a Greaser. There is the Two-Bit/Marcia friendship that lasts one night at the drive-in. Two-Bit throws her telephone number away because he realizes their relationship has no future. And then there is the friendship between Ponyboy and the Soc, Randy. That, too, goes nowhere. All of this was because of the class divide between Socs and Greasers.
15. Examine the various incidents of running away in this movie. Were they were effective responses to the situations that the characters encountered?
Before Bob was killed, Ponyboy ran away from home because Darry had pushed him. Johnny was running away with Ponyboy because Johnny’s parents didn’t appear to care for Johnny and they fought much of the time. As with so many other runaways, these boys put themselves at risk for someone trying to do them harm. In this case it was the Socs who found them in the park and tried to kill Ponyboy. Sometimes it is adults looking for sex with children or white slavers who offer desperate runaways shelter and friendship. (See, for example, the bus station scene in Pay It Forward.) For Johnny and Ponyboy, running away after Johnny killed Bob seemed to work. But that was an illusion. Johnny died as an indirect result of running away. Running away from a problem almost never helps, and if you could be accused of a crime, running away can be used by the government as evidence of guilt. Finally, Dally was running away from just about everything all of his life. He could not face the deep psychological wounds that he had suffered. This is dramatized at the end of the film as he runs away from the hospital where Johnny has died. Dally lashes out, which is the way he deals with disappointment. But is he really running away from the horror of Johnny dying or is Dally running toward his own death at the hands of the police? Both are valid conclusions.
16. Name three instances in which kids tried to bridge the gap between Socs and Greasers.
Examples are: when Cherry and Marcia talked to Ponyboy and Johnny at the Drive-in; when Marcia gave Two-Bit her phone number; when Randy talked to Ponyboy before the rumble; when Cherry gave information to the Greasers and when, at the end of the movie, Cherry and Randy testified in Ponyboy’s defense. It was not until the end of the story and after three boys had died that the boundaries of gang and social class were transcended, but even that had limits because Cherry would still not talk to Ponyboy at school.
17. What role did peer pressure play in the conflict between the Greasers and the Socs?
It kept the groups apart. People who would normally like each other, such as Ponyboy and Cherry or Cherry and Dally or Ponyboy and Randy, couldn’t form friendships because of pressure from their cliques.
18. Running into the burning church to save the children was the right thing to do. But did Johnny have another reason to try to save the children?
There are a couple of possible reasons. He could have been seeking redemption for killing Bob. Even if he thought it was necessary to kill Bob to save Ponyboy, it was a terrible thing to have to do. Saving the lives of the children redeemed him somewhat. Another possible reason is that he (and Ponyboy) were so sickened by the violence around them that they couldn’t take it if the children died in the church. Another way to say this is that their world was so uncaring and cynical that they had to act to save the children. Yet another reason was that they thought that they might be responsible for the fire. They had been living in the church, cooking, and smoking cigarettes. All three of these motivating factors could have combined to cause them to run into the burning church.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. How did the Greasers show that they understood the importance of this Pillar of Character?
The Greasers were loyal to each other and had a strong code of honor.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
2. Ponyboy and Johnny ran away rather than face responsibility for Bob’s killing. Did they do the right thing? Did they do the right thing to come back?
The boys were faced with a difficult choice. They didn’t trust that they would get justice from the legal system which discriminated against Greasers. Ideally, they should have stayed and tried to establish their innocence. As soon as Johnny heard that Cherry would testify for the boys and he had a chance in court, he decided to come home.
3. Which character in the movie most exemplified this Pillar of Character?
It was Darry because he gave up his chance at a football scholarship and college to take care of his brothers and keep the family together. Johnny, too, acted responsibly when he protected his friend Ponyboy.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
4. There was one underlying failure that led to the clash between the Socs and the Greasers. What was it?
Lack of respect.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See Questions under Brothers and Friendship in the Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Any of the discussion questions in this Learning Guide can be used as essay prompts. Additional assignments are:
1. Were you to write a story or a screenplay about the differences between groups in your school, you would probably not use greaser-types and wealthy young socialites, each of whom utilize cars, hair fashion, and clothing as symbols of their status. Write informally about how you would divide your world into two groups or possibly more, in an effort to illustrate the artificial divisions that can occur between people. Be sure to make clear the differences among the groups you define and to explain the symbols by which their identities can be known.
2. For homework, or an in-class assignment, have students write an alternative ending to the movie describing what happened to Ponyboy and his family over the next five years. A good submission will include whether Ponyboy went to college, what Darry did after both Ponyboy and Sodapop reached 18, and what happened to Sodapop. A good submission will also bring in other characters like Cherry, Randy, and Two-Bit.
3. Write the last five minutes of the story, from the time that Johnny dies until the end, from the viewpoint of another character such as Cherry, Randy, Two-Bit, Darry, Sodapop, Dally’s Ghost, or Johnny’s Ghost. In your narrative describe action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.
4. Write an opinion essay in which you argue whether or not Dally committed an act referred to as ” suicide by cop. ” You will need to research this method of suicide and learn about why persons may choose to die at the hands of a police officer. Add depth to your essay by including information about how often this kind of self-murder occurs and its effects on police officers who become unwitting participants and, in certain situations, victims of the person who commits suicide.
Note to Teachers as to assignments 2 and 3. To prepare for these assignments, consider having students complete TWM’s Exercise in “Showing Rather than Telling” When Writing a Narrative. Also, check out TWM’s Narrative Writing Lesson Plan. You can also split the class into groups and have them share their work with each other. Pick the most creative and interesting ones to read to the class.
Click here for a list of about 30 projects for the book, most of which can be easily adapted to the movie by Michaela Muller at Help4Teachers.com.
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.
Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.
Speaking and Listening:
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.
Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Screenplay for the original shorter version of the film at Drew’s Script-O-Rama;
- Article on the Outsiders at Wikipedia.